Ravindra Jadeja unsheathed his bat, ran his fingers on its edges and started waving it around as if it were a sword. Rugged and bearded, wearing his thigh pads over his track pants, Jadeja looked like a modern-day Don Quixote slaying imaginary giants as his impromptu swordplay lasted about a couple of minutes.
There may be a few similarities between them — both are loved, parodied and are more impulsive than thinking types. However, unlike the legendary knight errant from La Mancha, the lad from Jamnagar does pull off a real adventure once in a while. Like in Auckland the other day.
At 186 for six, Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin’s task looked pretty much like tilting at windmills as they set about chasing 129. After all, the duo had between them scored 29 runs in the previous two matches.
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Yet, it was because of these two that India bucked the recent trend of losing abroad and now have, if not the foot, then at least a toe in the door.
There is a renewed hope that after tying the third match, India can now go on to tie the series. For that to happen, however, India will have to take both in Hamilton on Tuesday and in Wellington of Friday — a ‘win, win’ situation. And Jadeja and Ashwin will be required to play a significant role, again. Not so much with bat, India will hope, but with ball.
Their batting on Saturday papered over the cracks in their bowling in the series. In fact, Ashwin’s place in the side was been questioned after he went wicket-less for over a month. He ended this 80-over dry spell with the big wicket of Corey Anderson in the last game and finished with 1-47 in his quota of 10 overs. Jadeja took two for 47. India conceded 314. And we are still dissecting two of the best figures on the day, you might ask. Indeed.
The reason behind those respectable figures is that New Zealand’s top-order batsmen, except Jesse Ryder have taken a very risk free approach so far in the series. They have scored steadily and built a platform for the likes of Anderson and Luke Ronchi to explode in the later overs. To make it clear, let’s analyse two such platforms in the series so far.
In the last game in Auckland, Jadeja and Ashwin bowled a majority of their overs — 8.1 and 9.1, respectively — when Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson were batting. They scored 77 off the two bowlers’ combined 104 balls to them on their way to the 153-run stand. In the first ODI in Napier, Williamson and Ross Taylor had scored 79 runs off a total of 94 balls by the duo in their 123-run partnership.
It’s evident that they are economical, but they are not exactly running New Zealand dry. And they are not giving crucial breakthroughs up the order, either. Agreed Jadeja is taking wickets, but all of his wickets (twice Williamson’s) came when New Zealand were looking to cut loose in the later overs. They didn’t really hurt the hosts.
In fact, it’s almost as if India are playing in New Zealand’s hands. You may argue that these aren’t really spin friendly wickets, and that giving breakthroughs up the order is fast bowlers’ job. Fair point. But then why is Dhoni playing two spinners?
Ashwin’s study tour
Ashwin, meanwhile, is happy with his bowling and says he is learning on the job. “I had a tour of South Africa which was quite a learning curve for me. I have decided if I am giving my best that is all I can do. It can happen, you cannot keep taking wickets or making runs all the time,” Ashwin said after practice on Monday.
“I am satisfied with how I am bowling. I have sorted out what length and what kind of bowling needs to be done. There are certain ways you need to construct a spell abroad away from India. I have learnt that and put that into practice.”
The series returns to Hamilton on Tuesday which is the most spin friendly of New Zealand’s tracks. Tomorrow, the onus will be on Ashwin and Jadeja to put the lid on the Black Caps. With bat they can tie a match for India, but to win it they would have to deliver with ball.
Apart from the two spinners, one more bowler who needs to sort a few issues out is Mohammad Shami. With nine wickets, Shami is the second highest wicket-taker in the series, but he has struggled with consistency. He is nippy and tests the New Zealand batsmen with his pace and bounce but his line and length are often erratic. A ball bang on the money is often followed by a full toss or a wide or both. At times, it seems, he operates only in two zones: sublime or substandard.
His economy in this series has been 7.42. Only Ishant Sharma has fared worse.
That said, India have improved from Napier consistently. The alleged short ball problem was addressed. The openers were among runs in the last match, though more will be asked of them tomorrow. And overall, India have been chipping away at New Zealand. The 24-run loss was followed by a closer, 15-run defeat and the last match was a tie. A shift in momentum could be sensed here.
But New Zealand have one thing going for them: they can’t lose the series from here.